A Roar of Defiance~

Along about the second year, definitely going into the third and then the fourth…I just wanted to scream at people.
Not in anger, but in shredded grief and pain…
Why can’t you just let me be sad? Why does it feel like I must defend myself against you? Why does it then feel like I have to defend my grief even to myself? Why does it feel like I can’t just feel what I feel, be whatever I am? Why must I expend all this energy defending my right to feel all that this is? Why is it not okay with you that I can’t find my feet and I’m feeling so disoriented that my stomach continually wants to heave its’ contents? Why are you trying to make me feel like I’m doing something wrong?
Why can’t you just let me be fucking sad?
These are a mere sampling of the piercing reactions that took up so much space in my heart and soul and mind in the first years of grief, in reaction to all the well meaning mostly discussions that people would have with me. To me, really, because they weren’t seeking discussion with me as much as they were telling me where they thought I should be with this, or how they thought I should be with this.
Grief, I mean.
How I was grieving vs how they thought I should be grieving.
They didn’t realize this is what they were doing, of course. At least, I hope they didn’t realize this is what they were doing.
Whether that was their intention or not, shaming is how I heard every word.
And every word from them shattered me more, because I, and we, already judge ourselves so much, when we grieve.
Am I grieving too much? Too little? Am I “okay” too soon? Not “okay” soon enough? What if I break down in public? I’m so exhausted…should I go out or not? They expect me…does that matter? Can I just get in bed and pull the covers over me and not go out for a year? Is that okay or not? Does that mean I’m depressed? Am I depressed? Should I go on medication? I don’t want to go but I’m going to go so that I can show everyone that I’m “okay” even though I’m not okay by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t want them to worry so I’ll go. If I talk about him, how much is too much? How much is not enough and then they wonder if I’m forgotten him? I need to get back to work for distraction/money/I’ll lose my job but I’m so exhausted. I can’t function but I have to. Hold the tears back. Okay, now cry. Breathe hard…
All these questions, and ten million more, are questions and doubts that we hold already in our hearts, when we grieve. And then well-meaning people voice them to us and this widow thing becomes more impossible, more unbearable, than it already is.
I knew I didn’t have to defend my grief, or my right to grieve, of course, even though it felt like I did. My grief would not be denied; it streaked through my DNA and took up residence and I wrote about it and made my writings public so that grief wouldn’t kill me. Which was, and always is, a risk, but it was one I had to take, or vaporize into a mist of non-existence.
Here’s the thing. It is normal to grieve. It is normal to grieve hard. With tears, with tearing of hair, with a closet full of black or a closet full of color as we scream our rage and defiance to the skies. It is normal that exhaustion set in that we think results from the strength of our emotions but is really a more holistic exhaustion that comes from, well, all that is grief. It is fucking normal to react however you react according to your situation, your history, your relationship, your background…your everything. It is NORMAL.
It was somewhere in my fourth year that true acceptance set in with me. Not acceptance of the death, which is what we’re told acceptance is all about. Acceptance, for me, wasn’t about the death. It was about my right to grieve in whatever fucking way I needed to grieve, for as long or as short as I needed to grieve. When people, possibly in true ignorant fashion, seek to instruct me, now, on proper grieving, I say to them thank you for your opinion, and continue on my way.
The ever popular anger stage of grief…which isn’t actually a stage of grief at all, but a step in the process, as written by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, for those who are DYING, having nothing to do with the grief of those left behind so for god fucking sake, people, can we get rid of that..is, I think, anger at those who shame us as we grieve. Yadda, yadda, yadda, give them that they love us, want us to be okay, want us to be, ultimately, who we were before, so that they can feel comfortable with us again.
To which I say….bless you! in the same manner that Whoopi Goldberg, as the nun in Sister Act, said bless you to the guy who was going to blow her head off at the end of the movie, and she wanted to curse at him but the Mother Superior was standing right there and being a fake nun and all, instead of fuck you she said bless you!
I was angry a few times but did my best to respond diplomatically to those who were outright cruel in their words, as I grieved. Diplomatically because I’m not one to be cruel in return, and because, initially, I was in such shock, and it’s only as I look back that I see the intensity of my shock, that I didn’t fully realize then. Diplomatically because I’m not a cruel person.
But what I wanted to say to the family member, who was very close to Chuck is…how dare you bring your bullshit to this sacred space we have created for him? How dare you bring your darkness to this man who is leaving all that he loves behind him? How dare you try to sully his memory with the ugliness that you hold in your heart? Keep that to yourself; there is no place for it here. Ever. Take your doubts and your guilt elsewhere. Not here. Never here. And…bless you!
And to my friend who was loved by Chuck, but who decided, 3 years in, to take confidences that I’d shared with her about the family member and make them her own and cast her own darkness into them and onto them and throw them at me…the friend who told me that I needed to settle down and get a job instead of gallivanting around the country, dragging my husband’s name through the mud…you clearly never knew me, and you most certainly didn’t know Chuck, and, quite simply, you betrayed him because of the darkness you carry in your own heart and in your life and that’s not on me or him, so…bless you!
At 5 years in of this widowhood, I don’t know what I’m doing, mostly, but I’m totally confident about doing it anyways, whatever this is. I don’t give a grand flying fuck about other’s opinions about me or how I’m doing this. I focus on Love every damn day so that I don’t lose my fucking mind because, guess what, folks? In spite of the grief shame you sought to cast upon me, I’m still grieving! You didn’t make things better for me…surprise! I miss Chuck so damn much it takes my breath away…yes, even 5 years later! My nights are unbearably lonely and I reach for his flag that I was given and I trace the stars on it and I clutch it close to my body, with the same passion that I used to draw him close to me. My heart hurts and it aches and I feel numb and I feel disconnected in every way…so I get up every damn day and I wear something pink and I go out and I find the Love.
I find the Love, wherever and however I can. And I miss him and my vision literally blurs with tears that I must live without him but the tears don’t keep me from seeking out Love…wherever I can find it.
You know what I do with my grief, all you grief shamers out there?
I fucking find the Love~

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This Pink Anniversary~

Today, Tuesday, is an anniversary of sorts for me.
It isn’t an anniversary connected to Chuck, since it happened after he died.
And yet, it is entirely connected to him.
Because today is the day, 5 years ago, that I picked up my new Ford Escape from the garage, and the man, I’d taken it to after buying it from the dealer.
I took it directly from the dealer to a man named Anthony, who had his own garage.
He and I had spoken a week or so earlier, when I’d called him and told him that I was looking for someone to create a shade of pink for me and paint my car in the created color.
I shared with him the Love story that Chuck and I had for 24 years. I told him what Chuck said about me wearing pink after his death. He knew I’d need color around me. I told him about our Happily Homeless travels for our last 4 years together. I told him that I was staying on the road, alone, and I was terrified and devastated and didn’t know how to do it, but I was doing it.
The price he gave me was just too high for me, but I told him how very much I appreciated that he listened to me and we hung up.
Not half an hour later, Anthony called me up again and quoted me a lower price. He really wanted to create a color for me and paint my silver car.
The first shade of pink that he did was too dark, and I told him to lift the brown out, and add a creamy white, but that I didn’t need to see the second shade. Paint my car in the color you get and it will be the exact right shade.
A couple weeks later I went with my daughter to pick up my car. She cried and I cried when I saw it, and we cried more when Anthony handed the can to me, with the formula for the paint on it…and the name he’d named it.
The name….
It’s to give you courage to return to the road on your own Anthony said.
Chuck’s Watchin’ Over Me was what he’d named the color.
God, did I cry.
And a few months later, I bought my tiny trailer. It’s a T@b Teardrop, and before taking it off the lot, I gave the guy my paint can with the formula on it and said anything that’s yellow, paint it pink! 16114600_1227243173997281_3474194353379356472_n
I was terrified to return to the road on my own. My heart was shattered into pieces and it felt as if a meat slicer was in my chest. Alternatively, it felt as if my heart had been seized from my chest and thrown on the ground and a sharp-edged ax was slicing at it haphazardly.
I’d never camped and I’d never towed anything.
I knew nothing about what I was about to do, and I was fucking riddled with anxiety. Waking up every morning was unbearable. How could I do this when I didn’t even want to live? When I felt numb and breathless with pain at one and the same time? When I couldn’t focus on maps and reservations and routes? When I didn’t know where campgrounds even existed and how to make reservations with them? How far would I drive each day? What if I broke down? What if I was attacked? What if I just couldn’t do it suddenly, and I stranded myself somewhere?
How could I possibly do any of it, when all I wanted was my husband?
Maybe it was fortunate that I didn’t have a home to return to. Maybe it was fortunate that I was too young (55) to live with my kids. Maybe I was fortunate that I didn’t know what else to do. Maybe it was fortunate that I was so filled with fear and anxiety that it opened my eyes to doing the impossible. Maybe it was fortunate that the fierce grief and exhaustion, even as it killed my energy, forced me on.
I learned as I did it. I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing or where I was going. So I learned to make myself vulnerable and ask for help from whoever happened to be standing near me.
I learned as I joined every fb group of campers and military people that I could find, so that I could reach out with my concerns and confusion.
I learned as I began writing my blog and posting daily on my Happily Homeless is MoonStruck page, knowing that all that I held inside my heart and soul was impossible to hold inside for long.
I learned as I began saying why not to any idea that came into my head, no matter how outlandish it might seem.
I learned as I began listening to my heart, trusting it to guide me much more than I trusted my brain.
I learned as I insisted, to myself, that the Love Chuck left behind for me must must must be fucking stronger than the grief, or I’d go over the edge completely.
I learned as I reached out to my widowed community and began visiting them around the country. I got so many hugs and each one took me another mile.
I did whatever I had to, reached out, pushed my boundaries and comfort zones and grew Love bigger.
I miss Chuck unbearably to this day, 5 years later. I always will. Life is less than without him. My heart and soul get so tired. My body gets tired, being out on the road constantly. When it gets to be too much, I find rest with family or friends.
What I learned, most importantly, I think, is that there ain’t nobody going to do this for me. This is it…my life. I had 24 years of Love from a man I adored, who adored me. And my world now, will never be the same. And that isn’t okay in any way. But this is what I have.
And by fucking god, I will, and I AM, living it in color, living it as much over the top as I can manage and I’m doing it in Chuck’s name and in the name of our Love story, and in the name of Love.
That’s it in a nutshell.
All the pink. It’s the color of my courage and determination and the Love Chuck left behind for me, and the Love that meets me on the road daily.
You don’t have to wait to feel better to do whatever it is you think you might want to do. You don’t have to wait til you’re not as sad as you are now. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval.
You just pack every damn bit of that stuff up in a suitcase and take it with you.
It’s in the doing that you learn. It’s in the doing that you gain some measure of confidence. And it’s in the doing that you find that dark bit of humor that lets you announce to the world that you really don’t have a grand flying fuck clue what you’re doing….
But you’re doing it anyways.
So, no, this anniversary isn’t about Chuck. But yes, it’s all about Chuck and the mission that he started me on, as his cancer filled body lay on that hospice bed and I told him that my plan was to continue traveling, as he and I had done, and he asked me to return to our favorite places and scatter his cremains but he only named 4 places because the other places would be up to me, and I’d have to keep my heart open in order to know them. And, in keeping my heart open, I know that he hoped I’d create a new life for myself.
My Odyssey of Love continues, beloved husband.
My knight, my lover, my hero, my light, my life…529438_552029828185289_1995679461_n

 

When the World Stopped Turning~

Where were you when the world stopped turning?
It’s the name of an Alan Jackson tune.
It’s about 9/11.
September 11, 2001.
That day is irrevocably entwined with Chuck for me. It’s part of how I miss him.
He was at McGuire AFB, in NJ, working a civil service job.
I was headed to Sea Girt, a military beach a little north of the base, and had just reached the turnoff for the base when I heard about a plane hitting the Towers.
Something in me instantly knew that I had to return home. This wasn’t just an accident.
I returned home in time to turn on the TV and hear about the second plane. The phone was already in my hand, calling the base, trying to reach him.
All attempts were unsuccessful. All communications into and out of the base were shut down. The gates were closed, no entry, no leaving.
I was certain that McGuire was on the hit list for the terrorists. It was a major East coast base.
And I couldn’t call him to ask if he was okay, if we were safe, what had happened…nothing.
The rest of my day was, as it was for so many, a day filled with fear and confusion and anxiety, calling loved ones, calling friends, and always, the TV on in the background, watching as the world turned upside down.
Chuck came home that night, around midnight. And then started working 12 hour shifts as our country prepared for war.
A few months later, I went up to Liberty State Park, as a volunteer. I’d spent the previous months training in emergency response.
Liberty State Park was set up to assist and support survivors, their families, the families of those who died that day, with numerous support organizations at individual tables. Kind of a one stop shop.
Each of the volunteers was companioned with a survivor or family member; we guided them through the process of applications for emergency assistance, made sure they stayed hydrated, got snacks for them, and, in the midst of that, provided a listening ear, an open heart, and shoulders to lean on.
Large round cafeteria style tables were arranged in the middle of the room. On those tables were snacks for everyone, bottled water, and thousands of letters sent by kids around the country, to the first responders, to the survivors, to the families. We’d read them on break.
Outside was the Hall of Remembrance. Well, it was that…remembrance…but the frames that wound their way down the middle of the hall were filled with posters that asked us have you seen this man, this woman? He or she worked in the North Tower, the South Tower. I haven’t seen them since that day but I can’t believe they’re dead. They just didn’t come home. Have you seen them?
My heart broke continually up there at Liberty State Park.

I heard stories from survivors that curled my hair and made me sick to my stomach. I heard about the tires from the planes seen down on the ground. People impaled on iron fences after falling from the skies. Near misses as a man was helped from the basement cafeteria by 2 nurses seconds before the building exploded.
I watched as a firefighter who survived the day, but lost so many of his mates, came into the great hall, found “his” therapy dog, sat down on the floor with his arms wrapped around him, and wept heartbreaking tears. Then got up and left without saying a word to anyone.
I went up to Liberty State Park 3 times, to assist in whatever way I could. I figured if they…those people who came for assistance…could bear to be there, so could I, to bear witness to and for them.
On the way back home, after an 11- hour day, my team and I would debrief. We’d cry and be in shock and talk some more and, basically, emotionally vomit those 11 hours.
And then I’d get home and Chuck would have a cup of chai waiting for me, with a light snack, because he knew my appetite was nonexistent on those days, and he’d sit down at the table with me and listen to me vomit the pain. We’d sit and he’d listen to me til I couldn’t speak any longer, and then we’d go to bed and he’d wrap himself around me and I’d feel safe again.
Where were you when the world stopped turning?
I was married to a man who served his country, who understood things that I didn’t about what went on behind the scenes, who reassured me, in a world gone fucking crazy, that it was crazy but I wasn’t and we had each other and we had our Love.
Chuck was the man who stood with me in life, through that day in September, and all the other days for 24 years.
I felt safe with him in my world.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of that September day, on this night. What I do know is that Chuck is linked to every memory I have of that day, and the missingness bubbles through my veins. And I miss him even more as it bubbles.
He was my strong shoulder, he was my reassurance, he was who walked through it all with me.
And my world is not anywhere near the same, without him~

 

Your Death. My Amnesia.

You exist in my world in all the ways you existed when you breathed the air that I breathed.
And none of them.
Your image is finally strong again in my mind and heart.
I didn’t remember it for almost 5 years.
I didn’t feel you.
I didn’t see you.
You disappeared from me that night you took your last breath.
The night I took my last breath, in so many ways.
It was as if I had sudden amnesia.
Memories….gone.
You…gone.
What had it felt like to be held by you?
Kissed by you?
To have you hold my hand?
Had you been real those 24 years?
Or were you a figment of my imagination?
You were so fucking gone
I remembered nothing.
Shocking, instantaneous amnesia.
Your body still lying there on that bed,
And I suddenly didn’t know if you’d ever really existed.
If we’d ever really existed.
That thought was as devastating as your death.
Where had I been for those 24 years, if not by your side?
I attempted to voice these thoughts over the following years,
Only to be told that he’s with you, he’s watching over you…
They didn’t realize the strain that caused my heart and mind.
Why did they know that, when they hadn’t known you as I’d known you,
And I didn’t?
Silent agony torched the filaments of my soul each time I heard those words,
As my mind tortured itself, striving to remember all the moments we’d lived
In all the years we’d had.
Doubting myself, doubting us, doubting my sanity,
Where were you?
Now, having sensed or felt or seen or experienced you,
Your Love for me, pouring and shimmering and showering upon me,
Through me, into the furthest regions of my heart,
Even less do I want to hear others say see? He was there it was you, you just weren’t ready…
On and on.
Because, it isn’t theirs to say…anything.
This is mine to experience and it matters not, as it didn’t matter then, what they think,
This is mine to know,
Because, my dearest, my most beloved husband, my lover, my Universe and my stars, my all, your all…
All that we were, all that we are now, though you be forever gone from my sight,
You are my experience to have and to hold in my heart and soul.
You are my beloved. I am yours.
This is enough for me~

My Beloved~

My beloved,
How thin, or thick, is the veil
Between your world and mine?
Is there a world for you?
Or did you just disappear into nothingness?
Are there alternative worlds in which
You and I exist at a different time?
Still together, still living our lives,
Living and loving passionately,
Instead of me, living here, alone,
Feeling all that nothingness that it seems you disappeared into?
Are there worlds beyond the one where we were together?
Is there a world where we’ll be together again,
Or was what we had here, all that will be?
I ask these questions of myself.
I ask them of the Universe.
There is no answer, of course.
But
If it is only a matter of a thin veil between us now,
Then know that I love you just as madly as when we were two,
And that Love that was between us, is between us, still.
It always will be, you know.
Yes, of course you know.
I’m the one that must be convinced of this,
Because you are so gone and it’s so hard to know it,
Until I remember that there is no death that can truly and fully separate us.
Our Love, our Love story…it is stronger than death.
It must be.
I will not allow it to be any other way

Love…in Time~

Where, my Beloved, did you go,
That long-ago night when you left me?
Where did you go,
That darkest of nights forever ago,
But yesterday?
Watching as your chest quivered in and out,
Until it quite simply…didn’t.
And my heart that was your heart that was my heart again, and yours,
Shattered and splintered,
Even as it crystalized into nothingness and everything.
Even as my traitorous mind went blank, searching for memories of you and I and us.
Frozen in time.
Time.
That time.
You, gone.
Me, still here.
Grasping the starkness of my new world,
Without you.
Where did you go, my beloved?
As I placed my hand on your chest something I’d done so often…
And didn’t feel you place your hand over mine something you’d always done.
Two hearts. One heart. Your heart. My heart.
Your heart and your Love into my heart and Love magnified in me.
Where you went, my beloved, was into nothing and into everything that is my world without you.
Spirit. Essence. Heart. Soul. Green eyes. Strong shoulders. Warm embrace.
We became me, and us and who we were, became who I now am in my world without you.
Love.
Magnified.

Missing Him on 40~

I’m on the road again.
I left Arizona, headed to Arkansas, a few days ago. Or maybe it was a week ago, now. I’m kind of tired after driving some long ass days.
Tune up on my car. New tires, brakes on my rig, PinkMagic, fixed.
Our daughter was road tripping to Arkansas with me, to see the opera camp where I work for the summer. It’s my second year back there, as the groundskeeper.
We were planning a fairly easy trip, stopping to visit family in Denver, taking our time.
Well, as they say…
The best laid plans of mice and men…
We were only 200 miles out when we heard a loud pop from the rear of my trailer, followed by smoke billowing out, and brake fluid trailing behind us.
Fortunately, I’d just pulled off the highway, so that we could drive the main drag of Winslow. You know….
Standin’ on the corner and all that.
Again, fortunately, I have roadside assistance and called them and they sent a tow out to us. He quickly diagnosed major problems and I followed his tow truck, very slowly and carefully, to his garage.
Where he removed the drums and discovered that all rubber parts had melted and all metal parts had turned to dust. They dissolved to the ground as soon as the drums came off.
Not good.
But better than what could have been, which was a fire from the massively overheated brakes, which could have easily burned my rig into nothingness, and taken the car too, I suppose, since it’s all so small.
Scary shit.
We ended up camping out at the garage for 3 days and 2 nights while they sent for parts and worked on the brakes.
High Chaparral Garage in Winslow, AZ; the best people EVER. They went above and far beyond what was necessary to keep us safe while there and take us back on the road.
Hooked us up to electricity so we could sleep comfortably. Put a large mat outside so we didn’t track grease inside PinkMagic.
Worked diligently on the brakes. We were right on the famed Rt 66, so people stopped in to say hi and take a tour of the inside of my rig.
Gave us great tips for exploring the area while we were stranded.
We’d go downtown to the corner and drink chai while watching the world go by.
Before leaving, even though it was late at night and we were all tired, the wonderful guys at High Chaparral tightened up the spare, power washed my car and trailer, signed the back of it with loving words, gave us hugs, told us to keep in touch…and away we went.
During our stay at the garage, I met 2 other widows who were 5 years out, as I am now. We spoke of the ravages of cancer and how it changes lives.
Because I was stationary, albeit unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to speak on the phone to a radio host with a program called Bringing Love to Life, about my Odyssey, and my marriage to Chuck.
Because we were stuck, so to speak, for the time we were, timing was set into place that brought us to a rest stop further on where we met a young couple, themselves stranded, trying to get to Montana to see the young man’s dad before his dad died of liver cancer. Remembering that desperate feeling, we were able to buy them a tank of gas, some groceries, and give some cash to help them on their way.
It’s the kind of thing that Chuck would have done, and all I asked in return was for them to remember the name Chuck D.
Our continued travels took us from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas to Oklahoma and then into Arkansas, and every mile along the way was filled with memories of my and Chuck’s travels, what seems so many years ago now.
How is it possible that it is 5 years since his death?
Next month I’ll have been on the road alone, as a widow, longer than he and I were, together.
That thought messes with my mind.
He is everywhere along Rt 40, through the middle of our country. He is at every roadside rest stop, at the picnic tables where we’d stop to eat lunch. He’s at the national monuments and parks, where we’d visit to learn local history. He’s in the wildflowers growing in the median strip and in the flat lands of west Texas with the huge sky overhead.
He is everywhere, in memory and in my heart.
I missed him for the entirety of 40.
I miss him on that road and every other road that I drive.
And I also know, more than ever, after the experience in Winslow, that his legacy is strong and vibrant and that our Love story is as strong as it ever was, and that I am doing just exactly perfectly heart wide open what it is that I am destined to do…
Live this Odyssey of Love. For him. For me. For all my widow brothers and sisters and their ones. Live it for all those I meet along the way, for all those whose path I cross or who cross my path.
Just, quite simply, live the Love that he left behind for me.
Fiercely. Strongly. Powerfully. Confidently.
Always.